Supreme Court affirms scope of Congress's authority over Indian affairs

In United States v. Lara, the Court considered whether Congress' expansion of tribal authority over members of other tribes altered the inherent authority of tribes or whether Congress was limited to delegating federal authority to tribes. This issue arose in the context of a tribal prosecution and a subsequent federal prosecution of the same person for the same criminal act. Prosecutions by separate sovereigns normally do not constitute a violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The defendant in this case, however, claimed that since Congress had amended the Indian Civil Rights Act to expand tribal authority following the Supreme Court's ruling in Duro v. Reina -- which held that tribes lacked inherent authority to prosecute members of other tribes -- thereby delegating federal authority to tribes. As a result, defendant asserted that Double Jeopardy applied, since both the tribal and federal prosecutions constituted exercise of federal authority. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, affirming that Congress had the authority to expand and contract the scope of tribal inherent authority.

Updated May 14, 2015